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Informal European Council: Presidency Press Conference, 16/4/2003

Informal European Council, Presidency Press Conference
The Convention will present the draft European Constitution on schedule at the Thessaloniki European Council, responding to the request made by the Greek Presidency and many Member States, European Convention President Valery Giscard d’Estaing said after an informal meeting of the European Council. He was speaking at a joint press conference of the Greek Presidency, European Commission President Romano Prodi and EU High Representative for CFSP Javier Solana.

Replying to questions, d’Estaing said the proposal to institute the post of EU foreign minister had been unanimously accepted but that opinions differed on two issues: firstly, whether the system of the rotating Presidency should be maintained or replaced with a permanent presidency and secondly, regarding the size and composition of the European Commission.

The President of the European Council, Prime Minister Costas Simitis, clarified that the purpose of the discussion was not to arrive at conclusions, but to enable a mutual exchange of information, so that the President of the Convention could be briefed on the positions of the Member States concerning matters he had raised and which arose from issues pending since Nice.

Simitis said the strong role of the European Commission as “the central EU institution” had been underlined during the discussion. The leaders had also discussed the successful outcome of the Community method of integration and the need to facilitate the EU to allow it to take decisions more quickly, with transparency and simple procedures.

Lastly, Simitis clarified that the Presidency would not be taking part, even in the capacity of observer, in the ‘mini-summit’ being organised by four countries to discuss European defence, the conclusions of which will be presented at the informal council of foreign ministers in May.

Full text of the press conference:

Mr. C. SIMITIS (President of the European Council): Ladies and gentlemen, this morning’s meeting in the Informal European Council was devoted to presentations by member states of their views on five central issues relating to the institutions of the EU and to the reform of these institutions, in the context of the European Convention.

The discussion which took place this morning was planned for March in Brussels, but it wasn’t possible at the Brussels summit to have this discussion. Because of the pressure of international events, our attention was focused on producing a common position on Iraq and an explanation and discussion of developments there.

The purpose of today’s discussion was not to produce conclusions and to decide what our final position was and decide what eventually the results would be. The purpose of today’s meeting was to exchange information.

The President of the Convention, Mr. Giscard d’Estaing, wanted to hear from the member states what they thought about the various issues on which we asked questions, like for example the Presidency, the Commission, in order to be able to inform the Convention and to facilitate its work.

Because of this, it wouldn’t be right for me here to give a detailed or extensive picture of the outcome of the talks. I would simply like to say one thing by way of a conclusion. Following a discussion which we had with Mr. Giscard d’Estaing, we agreed that Mr. Giscard would present at the European summit in Thessaloniki on the 20th of June the Constitutional Treaty. He would present the results of the work of the Convention, therefore.

And Mr. Giscard d’Estaing pointed out that very little time is available between now and the summit. And since time is so short, and the procedure is quite lengthy, the result may not be the best possible which might have been achieved. Nevertheless, he wishes to respond to the wishes expressed by the member states and of the Presidency, that is to say that he should present the results of the Convention at the European summit in Thessaloniki, the main subject of which will be the Convention, the results of the Convention and the Constitutional Treaty of Europe, in order for us to reach a decision in Thessaloniki, what the consequences will be, what the follow-up will be, what instructions will be given to the IGC.

A second feature of today’s discussion was that for the first time the ten new members of the EU participated in an Informal European Council. They expressed their views not as observers; they participated actively in the deliberations aimed at arriving at a Council opinion.

Now, as to the positions expressed, there were points of consensus and there were points of disagreement. There were also certain subjects which I would like to refer to, where there is a strongly held view that we should continue or that we should be careful about avoiding certain directions.

For example, it is a general view that the role of the Commission must be a significant one, as it is the central, the key institution of the EU. There is also a view that the European model of integration is one which has helped us considerably up until now, and that we should continue to pay considerable attention to it, be very careful of it.

It was also pointed out that we want a more effective Union, and the results which we must seek must be aimed at creating a Union which is capable of taking speedier decisions and which is more democratic, simpler, more transparent.

This is where there were differences of opinion, and this is to be expected, including the question of the presidency of the European Council, the Council of the European Union, that is, the need for continuity and visibility of the Union, and some people felt that this can be ensured by a presidency which doesn’t change, doesn’t rotate every six months.

But on the other hand, it was pointed out that with a long-term presidency problems might arise in the relationships between the institutions and bodies of the Union.

So I’ll leave it at that for now. I won’t say any more. I’ll give the floor to Mr. Giscard d’Estaing to expound on these matters. In conclusion, I would simply like to say that the Informal European Council decided to enact a declaration, to make a declaration. So this is the Athens Declaration of the 16th of April 2003. We will be distributing the text. This declaration aims at highlighting the historic nature of today’s meeting and of the event which will happen this afternoon, the signing of the accession treaties of the ten new member states.

It would also like to highlight the obligations we have in the future, problems but also our common wish, our common will to overcome these problems and the common will which we all have that this new Europe should belong to everyone, and that we must shape it. It is a Europe which belongs to and is the creation of all of us. Thank you.

Mr. V. GISCARD D’ESTAING (President of the European Convention): I came this morning at the invitation of President Simitis to present to the European Council a progress report on what we have done in the European Convention and I also wish to consult the members of the European Council on a number of issues which are still outstanding.

Let me just go through this briefly. First of all, I have drawn up a balance sheet of what the Convention has accomplished. The Treaty of Nice had asked for four issues to be addressed: the distribution of responsibilities between the Union and the member states in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity. That has been done.

Then, how to include the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the Treaty. We have suggested that it be in the Constitution, in other words, that it should have constitutional status. It will become the second part of the Constitution.

We were also asked to simplify the instruments of the Union. As you know, there is a whole range of instruments, more than 12. We suggest we reduce that to 5 and that we give them names more readily comprehensible to European citizens. They could be called “laws” or “framework laws” of the Union, the usual terminology for countries.

We were asked about the role of the Parliaments. Now, we would want them to act as early warning systems for monitoring subsidiarity of the acts of the Union, whether they be acts of the Commission, Council or Parliament.

We have also suggested that the Union be given a single legal personality because at the moment you have the European Union but you also have the European Community, stemming from different treaties. Now, we want one single legal personality and we would replace all of the treaties by one single constitutional treaty, Σύνταγμα της Ευρώπης. I hope that was grammatically correct.

And we would also attribute to Europe one single institutional framework. Now, the points where I sought the guidance of the members of the European Council were on the common external, foreign and security policy and the reform, the renovation of the institutions.

A number of views and proposals were made. We will try and bring them together but I think that I can say, and I don’t think the President will contradict me here, that there was one point where we have virtual unanimity and that is with relation to the appointment of a Minister for Foreign Relations of the European Union, continuing the work already undertaken by the High Representative, Mr. Solana, who is here and who is listening very carefully, I can see.

So, a Minister for the European Union for Foreign Affairs. Now, it may not sound to be very much and it is a proposal which has been expected for some time, in particular by public opinion. They could not really understand why there was a Minister for Foreign Affairs of the US, Russia, China and why there was no one for Europe. We have an excellent High Representative. I hope in the future we will have an excellent Minister for Foreign Affairs for the European Union.

Now, on the other issues, not all the views were in the same direction. So we will have to try and include as many of those views as possible in the Summary Report we will be presenting in the next few weeks and to the very tight timetable we are being asked to respect.

Now that the principles were mentioned by the members of the Council, I would like to add one which is perhaps less spoken of in Europe but which is equally important. That is the equality of the rights of our citizens. We talk about equality between our states, our countries, but we need to talk about equality of rights of the citizens.

The major revolutions of Europe were undertaken on behalf of equal rights. Now, all Europeans are entitled to equal representation and all Europeans are entitled to carry the same weight in the decision-taking process in the Union. So in the Constitution we want to have something enshrining the equality of rights of the citizens of the Union.

Now, the last point which was discussed was the question of the timetable. As President Simitis has said, all the members of the European Council were very keen to have us presenting our document which will be the draft treaty instituting a European Constitution.

And this is something which we would present for Thessaloniki, on the 20th of June. That was the request put to us and we would like to respond to that request. So I will be coming back to Greece, to Thessaloniki, next time however to present this treaty instituting the European Constitution in the hope that it will satisfy our governments but also the citizens of Europe.

Mr. R. PRODI (President of the Commission): Just a few brief considerations. I am very grateful to President Giscard d’Estaing for the work which he has carried out. It was a very constructive spirit of cooperation and this was extraordinary, quite different from the uncertainties which reigned when we first began the task.

Can I simply say that we do not just have full agreement on the question of the Foreign Minister. There is also agreement on the basic pillars regarding the maintenance of the acquis communautaire, the strengthening of the instruments of the Community in the areas of immigration, asylum, judicial cooperation, police and economic governance, other points where at the outset there was no agreement. We also have agreement on the integration of the Charter of Fundamental Rights into the Constitution and the strengthening of the role of the national parliaments.

And therefore, huge strides have been made and there is a fairly general agreement on the deadlines, on the timetable, or the need to not speed up, simply to maintain or stick to the timetable originally laid down and which is very difficult to uphold, given the burden of work which the Convention has taken on board.

Now, as regards the questions raised by Kostas Simitis, we had some differences of opinion, but here, too, there was a tendency, a trend towards convergence on certain fundamental points, namely the role which small and large member states should have within the context of the Convention and the role of the Commission on the strengthening of the institutions; on the balance between the institutional triangle there was general agreement.

In fact, this was clear from the discussion, and the significance of today’s meeting is that the focus is such as to enable us to be optimistic about the outcome, the content of the conclusions and on the timetable for achieving these results. Thank you. 

JOURNALIST: Can I ask Valéry Giscard d’Estaing: What, in your view, is the point where there was the greatest disagreement and very great efforts need to be made in order to find a common middle way between the opposing views?

Mr. V. GISCARD D’ESTAING: Well, there are always extreme positions on any issues, and then there are, if you like, more middle-of-the-road positions which are more or less open to further change. I felt that there were fairly open-ended positions between the extremes.

Now, the two issues where views still seem to be quite divergent were whether we should maintain the rotation of the presidency of the Council, or whether this should be replaced by some more stable form of presidency.

There are extreme views, but there is also a more middle-of-the-road position, which is to examine how one could bring about a stable presidency. This is what we heard expressed, including from President Prodi.

Another institutional issue where there were extreme views relates to the composition of the Commission. In the past, this was a very small collegiate body. Following successive enlargements, it has become a rather more numerous, rather larger body, so it’s losing somewhat its collegiate status.

So should we come back to a smaller body with a collegiate status, or should we maintain representation of all countries in the Commission?

Now there, too, you can see the beginnings of some movement. I don’t want to over-emphasise that, but I think you can understand that the new countries want, certainly at the beginning, to have a Commissioner but they I think are beginning to recognise that this cannot last indefinitely. And therefore we have to consider a smaller Commission with, obviously, rules of rotation which would guarantee equal treatment between the member states.

JOURNALIST: I have a question for the President of the Convention and another for the President of the European Council. Did you, Mr. Giscard d’Estaing, consult heads of state and government on your idea of including in the European Constitution the idea of a declaration of European independence?

And for the President of the Council: You have now adopted something that is extremely important for Europe. (microphone problems) …as far as the fundamental issues, for example foreign affairs, political governance and internal policy?

Mr. V. GISCARD D’ESTAING: Well, to answer your question, first of all this was not on the list of questions that Mr. Simitis put to the members of the European Council. Therefore I did not ask him about that point.

On the other hand, in the text that we are preparing, the Presidium of the Convention, which will then be presented to the Convention, when we describe the foreign policy of the Union we say that this has to be independent; it has to be an independent foreign policy, respectful of international law and of the commitments entered into by the Union.

Mr. C. SIMITIS: The European Union has decided, as expressed in a number of Councils, to continue the procedure for enlargement. As regards Bulgaria and Romania, we have set a specific date, in 2007. Until then the procedure for their entry should have been completed, and I am absolutely certain that we will proceed in that direction.

As regards participation of those two countries, the same rules will apply which applied to the other member states which are also accession countries.

JOURNALIST: Mr. Simitis, we know that you are going to Cyprus and we know that you are going to meet with Turkish Cypriot political leaders. Have you any package to submit? Have you any proposal for Turkish Cypriots?

Or another question: Could I have your assessment on Turkey’s recent position? Thank you.

Mr. C. SIMITIS: This is not one of the issues covered by the Convention, of course, but I will answer very briefly. I will be visiting the 24 countries which will be participating in the summit, and I will also visit Cyprus, of course. In Cyprus we will be discussing what the subjects will be for the summit, and we’ll also discuss the recent developments.

I don’t really have anything to offer to the two communities. I am the President of the European Union. The European Union has defined its policy. It has announced what arrangements it will make in order to bolster the Turkish Cypriot community, and it has also defined a percentage of resources to be allocated to the Turkish community, and this procedure will continue.

JOURNALIST: Mr. Chairman, does the Greek Presidency intend, in the context of this Informal European Council, to discuss the question of the summit to be organised on the 29th of April by four countries and to ask for instructions from the members of the European Council in order to follow the discussions related to European defence? Could I ask whether this has happened already? Did it happen in the meeting this morning, or is it going to be discussed over lunch?

Mr. C. SIMITIS: No decision was taken along these lines, I am afraid, nor did we intend to raise this question in the Informal European Council. There has been a procedure which has been agreed between the four countries, that they are going to examine the issue, and the informal meeting of the Foreign Affairs Ministers will discuss this and discussions will continue within the Council’s bodies.

JOURNALIST: During this morning’s meeting, was there a majority view which developed amongst the member states in favour of the proposal for the election of the President of the Council with a permanent, a fixed term? Is there still a united front by the smaller and medium-sized countries in favour of rotation of the Presidency? And I would also like to know whether the Greek position remains the same. Is it still in line with the position of the smaller countries in this respect?

Mr. V. GISCARD D’ESTAING: I can answer for the others but not for Greece. First of all, when you assess these positions, as far as Europe is concerned, one has to take into account the number of states, naturally, but one also have to take the population into consideration, because we operate in a democracy here. And therefore the number of people who want one solution or another, that number is important. And at the moment, there is quite a broad majority of the population which is represented and which is in favour of a somewhat more stable Presidency.

It was interesting this morning to note that two of what you referred to as small countries – I never call them small countries because they have their own histories, they have their own identities – important and influential in the European Union, said that they were in favour of a more stable presidency.

Mr. C. SIMITIS: Greece has stated in the past that it wants equality between the member states. All member states must be treated in the same fashion. And as regards the presidency, all member states must have the possibility of participating in the presidency.

It has been said that the rotating presidency has certain advantages and certain disadvantages. But it was also pointed out that there are certain problems which arise when the Union has so many members, 25.

So we used this principle to underpin the discussion. We wanted to hear the various views, but we believe that we must try to ensure that all member states have equal access to participation.

And I would like to conclude by saying that I do not like our being called small or medium-sized countries. We are small countries, yes, but it is not small and medium-sized businesses that are asking for aid, you know. It is not that. So, I do not like that expression.


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